As Caribbean countries search for ways to restart their economies amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, some territories have found innovative solutions by way of digital transformation. The British Virgin Islands (BVI) has begun to revive its restaurant industry which was severely impacted as a result of the crisis through an injection of cash grants provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. These funds facilitated continued operations through employee retention and business support payments of restaurants on the islands allowing them to remain open, even with national restrictions and physical distancing measures in place. The funding was also utilised for procurement of supplies and the recovery of goods which were lost during the initial lockdown. Cherry-Ann George-Smith, owner of Illuzion Bakery & Café and a beneficiary of the programme, was extremely grateful. “Having this grant will assist me in resuming operations by restocking goods lost,” she beamed adding, “…the intention is to also use part of the grant to fund the development of a business continuity plan for future challenges.”
This relief in the BVI is part of the holistic UNDP COVID-19 Response Programme designed to mitigate and reduce the long-term effects of the pandemic. The initiative focuses on helping Caribbean countries emerge from the financial strain of the current pandemic by stimulating fiscal recovery within key sectors that have been negatively affected by COVID-19.
In addition to digitisation and support to continued operations, the funding also provided targeted technical aid for severely affected industries. One example of this is the garment industry in Grenada, which was repositioned to meet new needs resulting from the pandemic. This has also allowed for the enhancement of national capacities for the development of health sector-quality masks, gowns and similar products that have proven to be critical during the health response.
Food security was another area of resilience-building backed by the UNDP grant funding in the region. Assistance was provided to the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Housing and the Environment in Montserrat to jumpstart economic recovery through a focus on food security interventions.
Speaking on the COVID-19 Response Programme and the partnerships with governments in the Eastern Caribbean, Mr. Ugo Blanco, Resident Representative a.i. for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean noted, “UNDP has been working alongside the various governments and key stakeholders to ensure that MSMEs are taking advantage of the available resources and assistance.” He went on to say, “The feedback has been extremely encouraging and we look forward to even greater levels of success moving forward.”
Thus far, the aid provided by UNDP has benefitted MSMEs within the Eastern Caribbean through grants totalling USD134,000, and through technical assistance that has been used to spark diversification and growth within hard-hit industries. This has been vital in helping MSMEs pivot and better operate in this “new normal”, and in advancing economic recovery across the region.
For more information on the UNDP COVID-19 Response Programme for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, contact Shani Leacock – firstname.lastname@example.org.